The system is not a fancy martial art, but a street-oriented brand of fighting. Hair pulling, neck grabbing, kicks to the back of the knee joint – they're all fair game in the system. . . . No rules. No Belts. No nonsense. The system is a fighting art without all the needless baggage.
Any student of history knows that weapons of war and the skills to wield them only improve (if you can call it that), increasing in their destructive capability during periods of conflict and war. (Only in the most militaristic societies do they continue to evolve during peacetime.) This growth in military weapons and tactics has a parallel in the development and evolution of combat skills for individual and personal protection.
Fighting Methods to Fighting Arts
Fighting arts are characterized by three words: focus, reaction, and counterattack. As a matter of survival in their harsh environments, practitioners of fighting arts must react to threats quickly and decisively – their focus is always on survival. Like the crocodile, the fighting art practitioner, when threatened or surprised, reacts. Assault is met not with defense but with counterattack – and one that ceases only when the opponent is vanquished. Fighting arts are violent, brutal, unforgiving, unrepentant, and extremely effective.
Fighting Arts to Martial Arts
Beyond the benefit of deeper knowledge and the versatility that goes with this, martial art practitioners also benefit from the development or rediscovery of completely different combative techniques – alternatives for dealing with confrontation and physical threat. To see what I mean, let us compare two techniques: one from a fighting art, the other, a martial art alternative.
In an environment where even peace overtures often precede ambush, the following technique makes perfect sense. Extending his hand in a gesture of peace, the antagonist declares a willingness to defuse a tense situation. Accepting his hand (figure 5), the defender remains cautious. Feeling a slight pull from his opponent and believing the gesture is only a ploy, the defender reacts quickly and decisively. Slapping his clasped hand to his right (figure 6), the defender lifts his opponent's arm, quickly slips under it (figure 7), and with a sharp pull down over his left shoulder, breaks his assailant's arm at the elbow (figure 8). Not only does this destroy his opponent's ability to continue his attack, but it also places the defender in a position where he can easily use his badly injured foe as a shield between himself and his assailant's still-capable partner.
I call this approach to personal defense the shotgun method. This is because, at the slightest provocation, the defender (figuratively) blasts his attacker – as if with a shotgun. He makes no attempt to deter the opponent, gives no second chance; his goal is simply all-out destruction of the assailant's ability to fight.
If this technique appears particularly brutal, remember that it is used in a highly charged, hostile environment where violence is a way of life (and death). In such a situation, you do what you must to survive. However, in an environment where the threat is normally not as great, the trained martial artist, with his broader arsenal of techniques, may find that the following technique works just as well – and without permanent damage to the antagonist.
As before, the antagonist extends his hand in a mock gesture of reconciliation (figure 9). Sensing a trap, the martial artist chooses a measured response (a choice the practitioner of the fighting art lacks). Slapping his clasped hand to the right, the defender pulls his antagonist's hand down and to the defender's hip (figure 10). Before his hapless opponent can respond, the defender reverses the pull, lifting his opponent's hand, and applies a painful wrist lock (figure 11). This maneuver gives the antagonist something to think about without (necessarily) inflicting permanent damage, while keeping the defender in the most defensible position (actually using the antagonist as a shield against his partner).
Options allow the martial artist to respond rather than react. Doubtless, under the tension of serious threat, with adrenaline flooding through his veins, the martial artist will, like the fighter, react. However, unlike the fighter, the martial artist's response is not limited to a narrow range of techniques designed only to kill or maim. The martial artist can, at any time, alter the direction of his defense anywhere along the way. Figuratively speaking, he may use the fighting artist's shotgun, but he can also choose a stick, a staff, a knife, or any other weapon in his broader arsenal. The fighting art practitioner, on the other hand, cannot. His shotgun is his only weapon, and it does not easily wound; it can only fire or hold fire.
This Pax Romana of modern time, coupled with the ban on Japanese martial arts during the American occupation of that country, meant that the days of empirical study of martial arts, there and elsewhere, were numbered. Challenges and fights-to-the-death to see whose art was the best went the way of the Old West gunfighter. All of this left contemporary martial artists with little more than legend and lore as the bases of their art's self-defense effectiveness and authenticity. Only those nations where one's life still depended on his martial prowess witnessed any continued martial art development.
In the West, martial sports have surpassed martial arts in both recognition and popularity. In the United States, for example, emphasis on the sporting element means that techniques and training methods are developed that teach the student how to score points. Martial effectiveness is sacrificed for sporting performance and trophies.
In the East, much of the art has been replaced by the martial way. For example, in Japan the degradation from martial art to martial way began with the restoration of the Meiji Emperor in 1867. Now, more than a century later, we find that warrior arts are no longer taught for development of martial skill. Martial arts like ken-jutsu, iai-jutsu, and kyu-jutsu became the martial ways of kendo, iaido, and kyudo – martial ways whose purpose for practice is self-development and perfection of character.2
What this means to American practitioners is that while fighting continues on its ever-changing course (neighborhood thugs continually update their skills, and tournament players sharpen their skills for excellence within the narrow confines of the arena), the self-defense student is left to study and practice the techniques and tactics of the past. Canonizing these observations into a "law of the art," we are forced to admit the following: As the distance between the past and the present increases, the effectiveness of any classical fighting art decreases. The result of all of this is that, with each new generation, actual knowledge of tested and proven combat and self-defense effectiveness moves ever-deeper into the realm of myth.
Breaking the CycleThe deterioration of martial art effectiveness would likely have continued unabated for some time, were it not for the efforts of modern martial art pioneers. These dedicated individuals broke the yoke of tradition to focus and shape martial arts in America. Like the masters of the past, these men studied their arts empirically. They experimented, observed, and experienced the theories they discovered. (And yes, a large amount of their experimentation, observation, and experience came from real head-thumping fights.)
Notice I said that these men "discovered," and not that they developed or created. This is because practically everything that can be done to the human body with regard to personal self-defense has already been tested or experienced. For example, there are only so many ways a fist or hand can come at you: hook, cross, straight, over the top, and uppercut. In response, there is only a finite number of ways to deflect, defend against, or otherwise manipulate the attacking arm. Because these things remain constant, there is really very little new, revolutionary development. There is, however, rediscovery.
Equally significant is the fact that, in the United States, we may train in many different fighting and martial arts. The "shrinking of our world" means we have access to many, many more arts than our predecessors did. Greater exposure to different approaches to combat gives greater flexibility in confrontational situations. You can choose, for example, from an aikido redirection technique, a pain-compliance from jujutsu, or a leg kick from Thai-boxing. Open access to so many arts is something only dreamed of by past masters.
RecyclingWe can see how self-defense skills and systems of personal combat develop and decline in cyclical fashion. They evolve rapidly upward, gaining in sophistication and effectiveness during periods of violence and brutality. In peacetime they stagnate and slowly devolve downward into either martial ways or martial sports. Asian martial arts in America are in the devolution phase of the evolutionary cycle. Actual knowledge of the classical Eastern combat skills that American students are learning is beyond our reach. This is because most of the men who were intimately familiar with them have passed away. Our fascination with martial sports only compounds the problem. Many practitioners today learn how to score points instead of how to survive real confrontations. Martial ways, with their emphasis on character perfection rather than self-protection, offer little help for the self-defense motivated martial artist. This is the current state of martial arts in America. However, we need not settle for the status quo.
Our culture and environment may be far removed from those that spawned the potent arts we are so fortunate to have available to us today, and we may not be able to test our fighting theories as past masters did (empirically – by busting heads), but development and discovery are still available to the dedicated student of the art. This is because we in the West enjoy unprecedented access to more Asian fighting and martial art systems than any who trained before us. Further, we have technological advantages that would boggle the minds of past martial art masters. Used properly, video recording equipment and modern training gear can do for students of Asian martial arts what similar advances have done for modern Olympic champions. Even the downward slide in martial art development in America need not continue; the status need not remain quo.
©Copyright Bob Orlando, 1993-2016
All rights reserved.
Aug. 6, 2016
by Bob Orlando